Franciscan Friday: Richard Rohr on the Franciscan Way

Statue of St. Francis, Cathedral of San Rufino, Assisi

Richard Rohr on the Franciscan Way

Coincidentally, while we were in Europe, Richard Rohr was sending out two weeks of daily meditations on Franciscan spirituality in my email. You can review those articles HERE. I encourage you to read and meditate on them all.

I would like to explore some of these themes on Fridays for awhile. For today, here are a few quotes from Rohr for your consideration and discussion.

There are always new vocabularies, fresh symbols, new frames and styles, but Francis must have known, at least intuitively, that there is only one enduring spiritual insight and everything else follows from it: The visible world is an active doorway to the invisible world, and the invisible world is much larger than the visible. I would call this mystical insight “the mystery of incarnation,” or the essential union of the material and the spiritual worlds, or simply “Christ.”

Francis was fully at home in this created world. He saw all things in the visible world as endless dynamic and operative symbols of the Real, a theater and training ground for a heaven that is already available to us in small doses in this life. What you choose now, you shall have later seems to be the realization of the saints. Not an idyllic hope for a later heaven but a living experience right now.

Unlike the monastic life, which strove to domesticate nature and to bring it under control, Francis expected to live lightly on the earth, a burden neither to the earth nor to those who fed and clothed him.

John Quigley

Francis fell in love with the humanity and the humility of Jesus; while most of Western and even Eastern Christianity focused on proving the divinity of Jesus.

Jesus never told us to separate ourselves from the world. That’s why Francis would not be a monk. The friars were a totally new religious movement. Francis wanted us to live in the middle of the cities right with the people and not to separate ourselves. That’s because he didn’t hate the world. He said you have to find a way interiorly to love and have compassion for the world, which may mean going apart for a time for the purpose of prayer and contemplation.

26 thoughts on “Franciscan Friday: Richard Rohr on the Franciscan Way

  1. From what I’ve read of Dreher, I don’t think the BenOp precludes that. His prime example is a Catholic community in Italy, that started a parent-run Classical Humanist school in their home town. I have difficulty believing that any of those people would shun sinners; their patron saint, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, was well known for his social justice work among the poor in Turin, and probably caught the polio that killed him from ministering among them.

    You should read the book.



  2. Oh, I know he’s pushing for less of a full retreat than I made it out to be. I’m just not sure how “Jesus-like” it really is to even “strategically retreat”. You know, with Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors and all that, it seems the Benedict Option would say one should stayed away from that. But he moved into those kinds of things.


  3. Bits and pieces of Rohr can helpful in thinking about God more deeply if you’re in the Ewilderness. However, my book group read his “Divine Dance” and I found most of it very confusing, theologically speaking.

    Monasticism was not about striving “to domesticate nature and to bring it under control”, and only the rare hermit was able to be completely “separate from the world.” Some monasteries in the West became large because people donated property for them to farm, but what they initially cultivated was for their own support and to give away to the poor. That wasn’t about “domesticating” any more than any other kind of farming, and it wasn’t about “control” until later on, when some of the monasteries were diverted from their focus on prayer because of the wealth that judicious husbandry brought them.

    In the early years of monasticism, the monks took up residence outside of, but yet fairly near, the cities in Egypt. People flocked to them for their spiritual insight, and it was impossible for them to completely withdraw from “the world” even if they wanted to. What they wanted was a non-complacent Christian life and practice.

    In the East, no large Orders developed; each monastery has its own flavor, but monastic focus and practice is essentially the same everywhere. Monasteries were – and remain – self-contained and self-sufficient, but not closed off. At the height of the latest economic hardships in Greece, it has been the monasteries that have sustained people who live in the boondocks, selling them produce and animals at very minimal prices so they could survive; I heard this from an English nun who is at one of those Greek monasteries. Eastern monastics very much strive “to live lightly on the earth”. Some of them forage for wild greens in the woods around them.

    Finally, Eastern Christianity was not about “proving the divinity of Christ” – explaining as best we can with language, yes, but articulated in the face of heresies that denied it. Eastern Christianity is very much attuned the the humility and humanity of Christ. I can’t imagine that Rohr would say such a thing if he were familiar with the services and prayers of Eastern Christianity.



  4. Well, I’m not Polish, or Russion… but this composition by Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninov has brought people to the Lord. I often fall asleep listening to it. These singers are outstanding – it’s quite unusual for the “Vespers” to be sung by such a small group, and they are awesome.



  5. “Running away and doing religion by myself” isn’t the Benedict Option. Have you read the book, Rick? It’s the next book I’m going to buy, and from reading Dreher’s blog, it’s not about that at all.



  6. Gee, I hope it happens often “to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be kept carefully” — I’m one of them!


  7. The Benedict Option is not a temptation for me, because I lack the resources, the affluence, to make it work. So do the majority of people in the world, and Christians for that matter. The apostles also lacked the resources to make something like the Benedict Option work in their own time, and Jesus along with them; but in addition to that lack, Jesus chose a way for himself and his disciples that is not congruous with the Benedict Option


  8. Third amen. The choices are certainly narrowing and that opens the “new” way from generation to generation. See I make all things new. The new thing is the oldest thing in the book. Abraham knew God. Mysticism? What’s new is us. We bring the living breathing air of this day. This love and anger. This knowledge. This humor. These pains and challenges. We bring something new to relating to the Lord. It’s living flesh that continues to call out. It continues the story and will not be silenced. Intimate friendship is one of the things that God seeks in every generation.


  9. I see nothing wrong with them either. I even think that bona fide Liberation Theology is a perfectly legitimate expression of Christian faith, and better than many American versions of Christian faith. Did you get the idea that I was saying I objected to any of these things, Christiane?


  10. –> “I am “both / and” on this sort of thing, although I would say that any model of withdrawing from the world has to include the notion that you do so to serve the world, and for its good, and you remain part of it though separated from it.”

    Yep. Over and over and over in Isaiah, there is one clear message: “I (the Lord God) am saving you in order to bring salvation to other nations.”

    You don’t do that by hiding behind your castle walls.


  11. The Benedictine Option is quite tempting to us humans, and I imagine Jesus himself felt a “Benedictine Option” temptation several times during his three year trip to the cross. “I just want to run away and do religion by myself.”

    Good thing for us, he didn’t…


  12. Amen.

    Jesus came to be the Good News for a broken world. MY hope is that those who need to find SOME hope somehow glimpse that Good News that I found via my relationship with Jesus/God/Holy Spirit. And Good News rarely comes packaged as “religion.”


  13. BTW, what John Quigley says about Francis, above, is very much in tune with what I have been reading about Christian NDE (near death experience) accounts. Fascinating reading, that.


  14. Franciscan orders generally are advocates for the poor and for outcasts of all kinds who live at the edges, so if you want to visit a group like the Franciscan Grey Friars of the Renewal, you will likely go into the inner city to find where they are and how they serve; if you sit down with them for a cup of coffee, you will likely be joined by some people who would not be welcomed at a Trump rally, this is true

    if that is ‘progressive’ or ‘liberation theology’, then Pope Francis would approve

    I don’t know these terms except in how the far right has portrayed them, and I don’t see anything so negative about the friars or about Pope Francis, no.


  15. Fundamentalism failed, prosperity gospel failed, politically aligned gospel failed, social gospel failed, “how to be a better person” has failed……all that is left is the mystic mystery of the incarnation.

    That is where I am today, my last grain of mustard seed


  16. the path of humility 🙂

    “Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

    ‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

    ‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

    ‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

    ‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
    (Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit”


  17. I think you may be right about this: ” as if, for their whole lives, they’ve been waiting for Saint Francis.”,
    but ONLY if people are ‘called’ into this life.

    To live the faith in the Franciscan or the Benedictine ways are for those people who have received a ‘calling’ because so much is asked of them from a worldly point of view, but so much is given to them when they enter this new more open existence. I think that only the ones who are sincerely called can have the humility both ‘to leave the old way’ and to ‘enter the new life’, because ‘grace’ is needed for the journey, and that ‘grace’ comes to those who are humble.


  18. I have been tempted by the Benedict Option. I read Rod Dreher every day as well as this blog. Dreher’s very piece today “The Coming War of Religion” is more profound than the title. However, ever since reading James K.A. Smith’s “How (Not) to be Secular”, I have lived with his conclusion( the final paragraph of the book)…….”The acidity of living in a waste land, coupled with the persistent pressure of transcendence that cannot be explained away, will continue to generate ‘third ways’ of various sorts. In that cross pressured space, some will begin to feel- and be honest about it- the paucity of a closed take. And in ways they that they never could have anticipated, some will begin to wonder if ‘renunciation’ isn’t the way of wholeness, and that freedom might be found in the gift of constraint, and that the strange rituals of Christian worship are the answer to their most human aspirations, as if, for their whole lives, they’ve been waiting for Saint Francis.”


  19. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Rohr would argue that the original spirit of Francis has been compromised by the institutionalization of the Franciscan order and movement. Rohr is considered a maverick among many conservative Catholic clergy, including some of the leadership in the Franciscan order, as he is a champion of the inclusion of women and LGBT + people in all facets of church life, including the priesthood. As it is, the Francisan order has been intimately involved in much advocacy for progressive values, most famously, or infamously depending on ones perspective, in the development of Liberation Theology in Latin America.


  20. Jesus separated himself from the world on occasion, only to go back into it, and Franciscans have monasteries. In Buddhism, as an example, a lot of people will go and be monks for a bit, then come back, and this is quite normal – I think this a good idea. There are seasons for withdrawing for a time to be with God, to bring back what you have learned into the world, and a need for places to withdraw to, and people needed to live their lives in withdrawn contemplation be in them and make them. I am “both / and” on this sort of thing, although I would say that any model of withdrawing from the world has to include the notion that you do so to serve the world, and for its good, and you remain part of it though separated from it.


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